The Cowboy Capitalist - John Hays Hammond, the American West and the Jameson Raid, by Charles van Onselen (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

In the early 1890s in Johannesburg, in Charles van Onselen’s memorable phrase, “a ball of fire rolled in through the door of a room stacked to the ceiling with political dynamite”.

This “ball of fire” was the American mining engineer, John Hays Hammond, and the man, according to Van Onselen’s thesis, who was the principal architect behind the infamous Jameson Raid.

The raid, writes Van Onselen, helped set South Africa on course for “the development of a modern, industrialised mining economy dependent on a politically enslaved, economically exploited and socially impoverished African proletariat”.

The time has come, he says, to re-examine the raid and its effects.

As by Fire - The end of the South African university, by Jonathan Jansen (Tafelberg)

Charles van Onselen, see above, thinks highly of analyst and former Free State University rector Jonathan Jansen.

Referring to the recent violence on SA campuses, Van Onselen writes: “Anyone wanting to know why South Africa’s best universities are now set to become indistinguishable from the worst simply has to engage with this chilling - superb - study.” In his preface. Jansen says he wrote the book partly to understand the student protests of 2015-2016 and, by interviewing 11 current vice-chancellors, to provide the perspectives of these leaders in the context of the nationwide crises in higher education.

Salt Houses, by Hala Alyan (Hutchinson)

The day before her daughter’s wedding, Salma reads the grounds in Alia’s coffee, and knows she must lie. She saw a house and a pregnancy - but she also sees an unsettled life, which would not be new for the family who fled Jaffa during the war in 1948. But Salma wanted better for Alia.

One reviewer said of this book about a displaced Palestinian family that it “flies like a searchlight between history and fiction”.